Chuck Charles

Independent release, 2020


REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg


When last (and first) we encountered Charlie Recksieck, it was as half of the duo Leaders In The Clubhouse, whose smart-alecky songs I described as “very much in that Fountains Of Wayne – Ben Folds vein,” with a bit of an irascible edge. The same applies to his solo moniker Chuck Charles; this is brightly rendered, upbeat power-pop, thoughtfully arranged, with lyrics that are sometimes clever, sometimes serious, and sometimes both.

What he doesn’t take seriously is himself. In my notes for this review I scribbled “Randy Newman for dummies,” but immediately felt that phrase was too negative to include, only to find this quote on Charles’ own website: “Chuck Charles was once referred to as ‘the stupid man's Randy Newman’. We like that.” Alrighty then!

“My TV Friends” is a good choice to kick things off, a bouncy tune about a lonely TV addict who’s looking forward to getting home at the end of the day to see all of his on-screen friends. The undercurrent of sadness and alienation is both emphasized and offset by a snappy arrangement including horns and harmonies. “All Those Pretty Colors” follows, a tune about coveting comic books. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a reader and former collector myself, but would I write a song about that? I doubt it, but Chuck’s is pretty good.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

“Key To A Door” offers hints of another possible source of inspiration: Jimmy Buffett. Charles is once again talking about serious things in a funny way, masking vulnerability with punchlines. Track five, the elaborately named “Like A Maggie’s Positively Leopard-Skin Homesick Blues” is where you realize you’re dealing with someone whose filters are out of commission; it’s a rollicking 11-verse Dylan homage-slash-parody that goes on for (gulp) eight full minutes.

From there you get a playful take on patriotism (“Independence Day”), a bluesy tune (“Ugly Butterflies”) that lets guitarists Andy Machin and Mike Mannion stretch out while doing their best Clapton/Harrison imitations, and a loungey interlude that sets up the distinctly less jokey second half.

In its own way, second-half-opener “Lebanese Prison” is emblematic of this album; mixing and matching musical styles under a lyric that’s a four-minute extension of a single idea—comparing the unpleasant situation the narrator finds himself in to a Lebanese prison. It works as well as it does only because of the specificity of that point of comparison.

“Lift” is a notably effective description of the relationship between performer and audience; the performer’s gift is to give their audience a lift. It’s a simple idea that he does a nice job with here while giving it a yacht rock musical frame. “The Naked Truth” is a bit of a speed bump—a sad sack litany of bad breaks and indignities that overstays its welcome—on the way to the one cover here, a solo piano rendition of The Killers’ “Read My Mind” that works shockingly well.

“Were You Close” has a definite Fountains Of Wayne vibe, that slightly delusional lovable loser persona, but sweeter, goofier and sadder. Then “Oh My” plays it straight for a big love song, tapping a full horn section to bring it home, before we close out in melancholy form with the elegiac, distinctly Ben Folds-ish “So Long,” an imaginary conversation with a young acquaintance who died too soon.

Having said all that, it must also be said that 15 tracks and 64 minutes of Chuck Charles might be too much of a good thing; cutting three or four songs could have resulted in a stronger and more focused album. Such quibbles aside, Hiya is an affectionate and often clever homage to sharp-penned songsmiths like Randy Newman. Despite its various gags and feints, at heart it’s a serious venture crafted with loving care.

Rating: B

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